Climate Change

Climate change is a serious threat to humanity and especially to young children.  The changes in the environment, due to climate change, can cause poor air quality, higher temperatures, more extreme weather (ie. forest fires, cyclones, heat waves, floods), reduction in fresh water and nutritious food, displacement, impacts on family livelihoods and an increase in waterborne and other diseases. 

Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact, creating barriers to the realization of their rights and hampering their ability to survive, grow and thrive.  The right to a healthy environment underpins the rights of all children yet the climate crisis is a significant challenge in implementing children’s rights from access to food and safe water to housing, education, and freedom violence and abuse.

This thematic page, developed in partnership with the Asia Pacific Network for Early Childhood Development (ARNEC), includes key facts and resources about the inter-section of climate change and Early Childhood Development. 

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Key Facts about how Climate Change impacts ECD

Climate change directly impacts children’s growth and development. The impact on young children, pregnant mothers and fetuses is a huge cause for alarm, as they are the groups most affected by climate change and environmental issues[1]:

  • An estimated 710 million children[2]  live in the 45 countries that are at the highest risk of suffering the impact of climate change. Children will be affected by a mixture of food shortages, diseases, droughts and rising sea levels. [3]
  • Young children are more vulnerable to physical environmental influences because their brain development is most rapid in the early years and the quality of brain development is moderated by interactions with the environment.[4] Disasters, increased conflict, migration, etc. because of climate change leads to increased adversity and toxic stress, which harms the brain development. Toxic stress is excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain, and this neurological impact results in lifelong consequences of children’s educational achievement, economic success and social equity. [5]
  • In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced, more than at any point in human history. Approximately one-third of these were forced to move by “sudden onset” weather events—flooding, forest fires after droughts, and intensified storms. Climate change is contributing huge population of displaced peoples, many of which are young children and their caregivers. [6]
  • It is estimated that approximately 90% of climate-related health effects will be borne by children under five years of age.
  • Almost 17 million babies under the age of one live in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than international limits, causing them to breathe toxic air and potentially putting their brain development at risk, including risk of noncommunicable diseases, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases and developmental delays that can reduce their lifelong cognitive, socio-emotional and physical potential.[7]  More than three-quarters of these young children – 12 million – live in South Asia.
  • Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of close to 600,000 children under five every year, making it the second leading cause of death for this age group.
  • Children’s lung growth can be stunted by 12.5 percent from roadside air pollution.[8]
  • As well as outdoor air pollution, household air pollution was responsible for 3.8 million premature deaths in 2016, including over 400 thousand deaths of children under 5 years of age. The main source of household air pollution is the use of kerosene and solid fuels such as wood in polluting stoves, open fires and lamps.[9]
  • Pneumonia remains the leading infectious cause of death among children under 5, killing approximately 2,400 children a day. Child deaths caused by Pneumonia are strongly linked to undernutrition, lack of safe water and sanitation, indoor air pollution and inadequate access to health care ─ all challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.
  • 160 million children live in high drought- severity zones.
  • 500 million children (almost a quarter of the world’s child population) live in extremely high flood occurrence zones.
  • Children are the most vulnerable to diseases such as Malaria and Dengue fever which will become more widespread as a result of climate change.

More than a billion children live in cities. The lack of clean and safe spaces negatively impacts a child’s early development opportunities. It increases harmful exposure to air pollution and environmental toxins in city spaces such as playgrounds next to busy roads.  Cities are not being designed to support young children and caregivers, where outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, preschools and roads are disabling safe movement, play and social interaction.


Key Features of ECD and Climate Change programs

More research is needed to fully understand the impact of climate change on different areas of the nurturing care framework. The ECD sector needs to clearly articulate the impact of the climate crisis on young children’s development; and ECD programs need to incorporate strategies to address these in order to foster an enabling environment to nurturing care in the face of climate change. They need to better support young children and their families’ resilience and adaptation, so they can continue to foster their children’s development through integrated services. Some activities however which address challenges of climate change could include:


  • Awareness raising activities for young children and families about the impacts of climate change and the role young children and families can play to protect the planet.
  • Celebrate and do activities with young children on days such as Earth days.
  • Provide opportunities for children to play in quality, natural environments (or, at least, in natural outdoor settings) where they can have deep engagement with the natural world.
  • Start an environmental club for young children at a ECD center, school or community.
  • Integrate environmental education into science classes – through outdoor adventures etc…
  • Model ‘green housekeeping’ practices in ECD spaces and school such as recycling, reducing waste, water and energy consumption and composting.
  • Install solar panels on ECD centers or schools.
  • Build the capacity of vulnerable people’s and communities to manage risk and adapt to the impacts from climate change[10] via nurturing and responsive care practices to support the transformation of toxic stress into tolerable stress. Work with the government to redesign early learning models and education systems for young children to ensure continuity of learning for all when climate change impacts opportunities for early learning e.g. if families are displaced, learnings is able to pivot from in person to remote delivery systems, and be provided either individually or in small groups, depending on the context

Policy and Advocacy

  • Advocate for ‘child-friendly’ communities, towns and cities where urban design, transport systems and architecture enable children and families to have safe, open environments (ie. Playgrounds) that promote play, health and wellbeing. Initiatives like Urban95[11]  work to meet their developed and wellbeing needs through a city’s planning, design and regulation of space, land use, infrastructure and service.
  • Advocate for higher quality environments at home, community and geographic locations as well as policies and programs that affect them (e.g. the Han Oi call to action)
  • Advocate for WHO air quality guidelines.
  • Advocate for ECD to be part of climate change mitigation strategies at the policy level.
  • Ensure that environmental risks are addressed in health and safety codes for childcare and other early childhood settings like preschools.
  • Use collective power to challenge employers, professional associations, accreditation services and teacher education institutions to include education for sustainability as part of preservice education and professional development.



ARNEC website.

In line with ECDAN’s focus on climate change, the Asia Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood Development (ARNEC) are prioritizing the realization of children’s rights to a clean, safe and secure environments in the region. It aims to show how the climate crisis is impacting nurturing care and enabling environments for the youngest children, and the activities it aims to undergo to address the challenges. The website has more information.

Briefs and Reports

UNICEF (2019), Are Climate Policies Child Sensitive: A Guide for Action Summary

UNICEF, The Covid-19, Climate Change and Environmental Degradation Crises: Key Asks for Public Sector Partners,

Rees, N (2017), Danger in the air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children, UNICEF,

Rees, N., Wickham, A. and Choi, Y. (2019), Silent Suffocation in Africa Air Pollution is a Growing Menace, Affecting the Poorest Children the Most, UNICEF,

Kwauk, C. and Casey, O. (2021),

Dora, C. (2020), “Climate Change and early childhood development: finding the synergies”, Early Childhood Matters, Bernard Van Leer Foundation,

Hanna, R. and Oliva, P. (2016), “Implications of Climate Change for Children in Developing Countries”, The Future of Children, Princeton University,  Vol. 26, No. 1

United States Environmental Protection Agency (2016), Climate Change and the Health of Children,

Cabot Venton, C. (. ), The Benefits of a child-centred approach to climate change adaptation, UNICEF and Plan International,

UNICEF (2017), Thirsting for a Future: Water and children in a changing climate,

UNICEF (2016), Clean the Air for Children,

UNICEF (2015), Unless We Act Now,

UNICEF (2019), A Gathering Storm: Climate change clouds the future of children in Bangladesh,

ARNEC (2020). ‘Ensuring the wellbeing of young children amidst environmental risks in the Asia-Pacific region,’ ARNEC Connections. Available at:,%20from%20World%20Forum%20Foundation_ARNEC%20

Bruné Drisse Marie-Noël et al. (2018). ‘Air Pollution and Child Health, Prescribing clean air,’ World Health Organisation. Available at:

Center on the Developing Child Harvard University (unknown) Resilience. Available at:

Save the Children (2021) ‘CLIMATE CRISIS: 710 Million Children Live in Countries at High Risk’, Save the Children, 18 April 2021. Available at:

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (2018), Child Rights and the Environment, A/HRC/37/58.

UNCC, (2020). What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean? Available at:

UNDP (2018). Development Approaches to Migration and Displacement in Asia and the Pacific Policy Brief. Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021)

UNICEF (2015) ‘Children will bear the brunt of climate change’, UNICEF, 24 November 2015. Available at:

UNICEF (2016) Clear the air for children: The impact of air pollution on children. Available at:

UNICEF (2017) Danger in the Air: How air pollution can affect brain development in young children. Available at:

Walton, H., William M., et al. (2019). ‘Personalising The Health Impacts Of Air Pollution: Summary For Decision Makers.’ Available at:

Watanatada, P. ( 2018). Planning for Early Childhood Development. Presentation at the Growing Up Urban meeting in Surabaya, May 2018. Available at:

World Health Organization (2016). ‘Children’s environmental health atlas. Geneva, World Health Organization’. Available at:

World Health Organization (2017) Inheriting a sustainable world? Atlas on children’s health and the environment. Geneva: Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. Available at:

World Health Organization (2018) ‘One third of global air pollution deaths in Asia Pacific’, WHO, 2 May 2018. Available at:

World Health Organization (2019) ‘Clean, safe and secure environments to support early childhood development’ WHO, 27 November 2019. Available at:

World Vision (2020) Child Rights Now! The Global Climate Crisis: a child rights crisis. Available at:

Yousafzai, Aisha K. (2019). Ensuring a Nurturing Care Environment for Young Children in the Context of Climate Change. Available at:


Program Guidance

UNICEF (2019), Are climate change policies child-sensitive?: A GUIDE FOR ACTION: SUMMARY,

ARUP (2017).  Designing for Urban Childhoods, Available at:

Bernard Van Leer Foundation, (2018). ‘Urban95, Cities for Young Children.’ Available at: .

Bernard van Leer Foundation, (2019). ‘An Urban95 Starter Kit – ideas for action.’ Available at:

World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Bank Group, (2018). ‘Nurturing care for early childhood development: a framework for helping children survive and thrive to transform health and human potential.’ Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

Black, M. (2012). Household food insecurities: Threats to children’s well-being. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from 



Cordero, E., Centeno, D., Todd, A. (2020), “The role of climate change education on individual lifetime carbon emissions”, PLOS Climate,

Ginsburg, J. and Audley, S. (2020), “You don’t wanna teach little kids about climate change: Beliefs and Barriers to Sustainability Education in Early Childhood”, International Journal on Early Childhood Environmental Education, 7(3), p. 42,

Davis, J. (2007), “Climate change and its impact on young children”. Every Child, 13(4) pages pp. 6-7, Early Childhood Australia.

Calderón-Garcidueñas, Lilian, et al. (2018). ‘Air pollution, cognitive deficits and brain abnormalities: A pilot study with children and dogs,’ Brain and Cognition, vol. 68, issue. 2, November 2008, pp.117-127

Ferguson, K.T., Cassells, R., et al. (2015). ‘The physical environment and child development: An international review’ Int J Psychol. 2013; 48(4): 437–468. Published online 2013 Jun 28. doi: 10.1080/00207594.2013.804190.

Hajat, A. (2015) ‘Socioeconomic Disparities and Air Pollution Exposure: A Global Review.’ Curr Environ Health Rep. 2015;2(4):440-450. doi:10.1007/s40572-015-0069-5

Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD, Danaei G, Shibuya K, Adair-Rohani H, et al. (2018). ‘A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.’ The Lancet. 2012;380:2224–60

Center on the Developing Child Harvard University (unknown) Resilience. Available at:

EESI (unknown) Resilience and Adaptation. Available at:

HCDC, (unknown). Brain Architecture. Available at

HCDC, (unknown). Toxic Stress. Available at .

HCDC, (unknown). Toxic Stress. Available at .



Urgency, Hope, and the Intersection of Climate, Environment, and Young Children – by Dr. Joan Lombardi

Kwauk, C. and Winthrop, R. (2021), Unleashing the creativity of teachers and students to combat climate change: An opportunity for global leadership, Brookings Institute,


Recording of Past Events




[4] Ensuring a Nurturing Care Environment for Young Children in the Context of Climate Change. Yousafzai, Aisha K. 2019.

[5] HCDC, (unknown). Toxic Stress. Available at

[6] UNDP (2018). Development Approaches to Migration and Displacement in Asia and the Pacific Policy Brief. Available at:

[7] Inheriting a sustainable world? Atlas on children’s health and the environment. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

[8] Personalising The Health Impacts Of Air Pollution: Summary For Decision Makers. Walton, 2019

[9] One third of global air pollution deaths in Asia Pacific . WHO, 2019.

[10] UNCC, (2020). What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean? Available at:

[11] Urban95, Cities for Young Children Bernard Van Leer Foundation. Accessed 10 April 2021 .

The Nurturing care framework for early childhood development: A framework for helping children SURVIVE and THRIVE to TRANS- FORM health and human potential builds upon state-of-the art evidence of how child development unfolds and of the effective policies and interventions that can improve early childhood de- velopment.